Pretty Good Week, Right?

Weeks like this don’t come along very often. Victory after victory after victory, with barely enough time to breathe in between, and most of them coming from a recently suspect Supreme Court.

That’s a solid string of wins for a lot of people, and everyone who views them as losses is going to be viewed by history as backward relics hanging on to barbarism (if they’re not already).  I really can’t overstate how great these four things are – the last one, in particular, is something I will never forget reading about, something I will cherish as a defining moment of a generation. Marriage equality! FINALLY!

via Time Magazine
Five out of nine Justices agree! The other four are pond scum.

Seriously, great job to everyone who fought for this, from Stonewall to today. People bled for this, please don’t ever forget that.

Does it sound like I’m leading up to a big ‘but’?

Flag of the State of Georgia
Georgia’s flag looks familiar…

Weeks like this are great, and there’s a lot to celebrate, but my fear is that the wins in these battles are so big, so earth-shattering, that they set back the rest of the war.  They take attention and momentum away from other, related battles. They drive opponents further into the trench and embolden them to fight even harder for anything they can hold on to. They make it that much harder to get with less flashy wins on even more important issues.

first national flag of the Confederate States of America
…oooh.

Great, yeah, the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is finally being fully recognized as a symbol of horrific racism and treason, and is being pulled down and thrown on the garbage pile of history where it belongs. Even Walmart is refusing to sell it.  Of course, removing this symbol required a blood sacrifice of 9 innocents, and has become the point of focus. Not the fact that a known radical was easily able to obtain a firearm, not the fact that he was a radicalized terrorist, not the fact that an ingrained system of hatred lead to this horrific act. It was the flag that did this, and if we take it away, everything is fine!


We’ve got marriage equality now, and thousands upon thousands of people who were denied basic human rights based solely on their gender are legally entitled to those rights. But, in the meantime, there are still 27 states where you can be fired or evicted from your apartment for legally getting married to the wrong person. There are 31 states where you can be tossed out on your ear for not dressing/acting/being the person your genitals say you are.  Everyone cheered Obama schooling a heckler without a thought to the fact that said heckler was protesting the government’s horrible detention of LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers. These are issues of livelihood and shelter and freedom that are still up for debate, but now people can get married, so what more do you people want?

via National Homeless Coalition
Yeah, probably have some work to do here.

To make matters worse, the politicians that we would hope are leading the charge on these wins are simply riding their coattails.  They claim victories that they had little or nothing to do with and have actually been counterproductive toward in the past.  The very leaders we need to drive the fight forward are the same ones who would have us declare the war done.  They are, if anything, more detrimental to the fight than the vocal opponents.

These are the fights we can’t forget about. These are the issues that we need to point to and realize that the war is far from won, that there is so much work left to be done.  This was a good week. These were a lot of victories.  Don’t expect every week to be like this.

Sure, let’s try to legislate the hate away.

Something Bad Has Happened, and therefore, the Westboro Baptist Church has announced that they will picket the funerals of those who died.  This is what they do these days, their entire purpose.  Exploit tragedy in the crassest way possible.  They travel the country to use any tragedy to blast their message that their god most certainly hates homosexuals, because he let Tragedies Like This happen.  Great guy, that god of theirs.  The best part about WBC’s methods is that they get people all worked up.  Their latest announcement that they will picket the funerals of the Newtown shooting victims has triggered a call on the White House’s petition site to have WBC legally recognized as a hate group.  The petition has gathered over 90,000 signatures at this point.

This is, of course, a Bad Idea.  It’s wrong, and it’s reactionary.  WBC spews hatred on a daily basis, but they have committed no actual hate crimes.  Do you who else spews hate on a daily basis?  The American Family Association.  The Catholic League.  The National Organization for Marriage.  All three of those groups have done far and away more to actually deny people civil rights than Westboro Baptist has ever done, yet none of those groups has managed to get 90,000 people to demand that the White House declare them a hate group.  Let’s be clear here: WBC has never called for people to rise to violence.  They have never done the equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Like it or not, their message is entirely and utterly protected by the First Amendment, and they are smart enough to never stray from that.  90,000 people didn’t just ask Barack Obama to label them a hate group, they asked him to violate a group’s freedom of speech.

As Fred Clark wrote almost four years ago:

Fred Phelps is a free man, so if you think your freedom is going to be restricted, you must be planning to outdo Fred Phelps.

So there’s the two-word answer for every Tony Perkins or James Dobson or Damon Owens who makes up some dubious claim about being persecuted or punished or threatened or jailed or whatever for their anti-gay beliefs.

Fred Phelps is the canary in the coal mine of our democracy.  He and his followers say terrible things out loud in public places that common decency balks at, but they do it legally.  The moment we start curbing that, the moment we try to legislate away this type of expression, that is the moment we prove the AFA and NOM right.  That is the moment that we say “we disagree with your message, therefore, it is illegal for you to say it.”  That is the moment we actually try to take away the rights of religious people to be complete hate-filled Neanderthals, and once we’ve crossed that Rubicon, we are really not far from legislating away whatever speech the majority disagrees with.  We’re not far from criminalizing condemnation of, say, the Catholic church for any reason.  Because, hey! That might be hate speech, and that would be illegal!

But in the mean time, notes Clark:

So when the folks at NOM insist that their opposition to same-sex marriage is a matter of “religious liberty,” the liberty they’re talking about has to be the liberty to exceed the Fred Phelps standard — the liberty not just to restrict membership on religious grounds, or just to preach against homosexuality as a sin, or to condemn and denounce homosexuals as people hated by God, but the liberty, apparently, to go beyond all that, beyond anything even Fred Phelps has imagined.

Attempting to label Westboro Baptist as a hate group, when their only “crime” so far is saying things that you don’t agree with, means that you are willing to legislate any speech with which you disagree.  Think about that for a while.  Think long and hard before you demand that we violate someone’s civil rights because you don’t like what they have to say.  Because that’s what legally labeling WBC as a hate group boils down to.  Violating their First Amendment right to be complete idiots.

Edit:  Something I completely missed in the writing of this – there is no legal classification for a ‘hate group.’  There’s the Southern Poverty Law Center’s classification, but WBC has been on their list for some time now.  This petition is asking the government to create a brand new class simply to persecute a bunch of people who say things we don’t like.